Pumas are the only one of Mexico’s ‘big four’ not in the playoffs. How often has this happened?
While Club América, Chivas Guadalajara and Cruz Azul are all through to the Apertura 2022 playoffs, Pumas can no longer qualify for the final phase.
After being eliminated from contention to qualify for the Apertura 2022 playoffs, Pumas will for the 12th time in their history be the only member of Mexico’s traditional ‘big four’ - the other three are Club América, Chivas Guadalajara and Cruz Azul - not involved in a Liga MX postseason. Since the introduction of the Mexican league’s short-tournament format in 1996, it is the sixth time this has happened.
Before Mexico’s short-tournament format was introduced
It all started in the 1971-72 season, when Pumas’ 13th-placed regular-season finish ended their hopes of league glory. América defeated Toluca in the final to lift their second Mexican title.
In the Prode 1985 tournament, Los Universitarios again fell short after coming 13th. América, Cruz Azul, Chivas, Tampico, Puebla, Leones Negros and Atlante all progressed to the playoffs, which were once more won by Las Águilas. Pumas also missed out on the final phase in the following league campaign, the Mexico 86 tournament, coming second-bottom in the overall table with just one more point than basement boys Angeles de Puebla. Chivas accrued six more points, and Cruz Azul and América were both eight ahead, as the trio advanced to the playoffs without Los Auriazules. Monterrey defeat Tampico in the championship decider.
In 1986/87, the generational handover underway at Pumas - as the club blooded young players such as Abraham Nava, Adolfo Ríos, Marcos Misdrahi, Marco Antonil Luque, José Luis Salgado, Guillermo Vázquez, Alberto García Aspe and Germán Tello - made it difficult for them to qualify for the next round. They came third in Group III, two points off Puebla in the second and final playoffs spot. Meanwhile, Cruz Azul and América were the top two in Group IV, while eventual champions Chivas won Group II.
Six years later, in the 1993/94 campaign, Pumas failed to make the playoffs despite the postseason’s expansion to include a further, preliminary round, known as the repechaje. They came 11th in the overall standings, and had to watch on as Cruz Azul, Chivas and América all took their place in the postseason, which was won by Tecos.
After Mexico’s short-tournament format was introduced
After the inception of the Apertura/Clausura format in the Mexican league game, the Invierno 1997 tournament was the following occasion on which Pumas were the only traditional domestic powerhouse to find themselves deprived of playoff football. They finished third-bottom in the overall table with just 16 points, well off the 29 of Chivas and América, and the 31 accrued by Cruz Azul, who went on to win the title.
In the Verano 1999, Pumas came fourth in Group II with 21 points, and were 12th overall. Cruz Azul, América and Chivas, who finished third, fourth and sixth in the general table, respectively, all advanced. Toluca finally won the championship, after beating Atlas on penalties.
In the Clausura 2007, Pumas were again 12th overall as Chivas, América and Cruz Azul secured second, third and fourth, respectively, to make it through. Five years on, in the Apertura 2012, the seven-time Mexican champions came 10th, while América, Cruz Azul and Chivas were fourth, sixth and eighth, respectively, in a tournament where it was Tijuana who secured the title.
In the Guardianes 2021, Pumas slumped to 15th in the regular season, as Cruz Azul won both the league phase and playoffs. América finished second in the regular season, with Chivas ninth.
Finally, in the Apertura 2022, Andrés Lillini’s men have mustered just 14 points to sit second-bottom and four points adrift of the playoff places with only one matchday to go. América lead the way with 35 points, Chivas are eighth with 22, and Cruz Azul are 10th with 21 points - and all three are certain to feature in the postseason, which kicks off in October.